This morning I had an amazing bike ride. Although I was only out for forty five minutes, (although I wanted to ride forever) it helped me to recapture the joy of being active outside. I worked on cadence, keeping my pedaling a steady pace as I worked through small inclines and steeper hills. (Which, by the way, meant for a faster ride and one that didn’t tire me.) The air was freezing cold, to me, and I thought a lot about how to dress the next cold morning. Mostly, I just enjoyed the ride. And I noticed that many of the people I have come to expect to see running or biking in the morning were not there. The streets were pretty much empty. Could be Labor Day weekend. Or, it could be that the shift back to school is already underway. 

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Now is one of those vulnerable times, where all the progress I have made may take a step back. I have to go back to work. Don’t get me wrong, I understand completely how lucky I am to have the amount of free time that I get. But the balance of that is the long hours that go into being an educator in the next ten months. In the beginning of the summer, I maintained my four o’clock wake up calls as a preventative strike. My reasoning was, if I could continue going out before five, when September rolled around it would be a smoother transition. Unfortunately, I forgot about sunrise times and my own level of weeniness. Wake up times gradually became later, until I was no longer rolling out of bed by four thirty but instead five thirty. Still, I had time and was able to put in an hour of biking or running.

Those days are gone. Now, Monday thru Friday is a four-fifteen wake up call, so I can be at the gym between four thirty and quarter to five. And, Lordy, am I tired by the time four o’clock in the afternoon rolls around. Hopefully, I will become more accustomed to the early mornings, as I was back in the spring. However, waking up to work out in the gym is not as appealing to me as running or biking outside. Additionally, as the summer progressed so did my goals. I am going further and trying to do it faster, which is more tiring. And although I am hoping to capture at least two to four afternoons a week to run or bike outside, already, I can see that this is going to present a challenge. After school activities, committee meetings, homework, housework, lesson planning, yada, yada, yada, all need to be worked in. 

So, this morning was a gift. In a time that I have been feeling very much defeated lately, this morning was exuberance and joy. This morning reminded me of why I continued to keep biking, even when it was hard. And it reminded me that although the future holds a diminishing store of runs and rides outside, they will come back. I will have to scale back on the amount of time I can put into running and biking, but I don’t have to quit.  And going to the gym will continue to help make me stronger. So when the spring comes, or even when it visits for a moment, I will be able leverage gym sweat into longer, faster, stronger rides and runs. 


Steep Hills, Speed Runs and Other Humbling Events

I sit here literally pouring sweat and wondering why I thought that was such a good plan. I have been reading a lot about adding speed workouts into my running, so today seemed like the day. Never mind that it is already hot, that it is day four and I am suppose to take the day off, that we are planning a family bike ride later in the day and hey, I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. Speed training you say? I’m in!!! Besides, I wasn’t being totally stupid about it. I did have a plan, maybe not a well though out plan, but still a plan. My idea was to walk for five minutes (warm up) run at a comfortable pace for a quarter mile, run like hell for a quarter mile, walk for a quarter mile and then repeat four times to run about three miles. 

Here is the up side, taking it in chunks made the three miles go by in a snap. The quarter miles, however, especially the fast ones are hell. I tried to keep my comfortable pace between ten and eleven minute miles. The fast  quarter mile, I just ran all out the first time. My pacing varied from 8.31 to 5.49, something I attribute to the hills. When I went just over the half mile marker, I walked for a quarter of a mile. My chest burned, there was fire dancing across my knuckles and of course my legs felt like lead. I can’t remember the last time I ran all out for such a long period of time.  Holy Shit!! That was fun! The second time around for my easy paced quarter mile I had trouble slowing down. My pace stayed within the nine and ten minute range, which was a problem. I didn’t think I could run really any faster. That time my pace fluctuated between 8.31 and 6.48, but hovered mostly around seven. And I couldn’t make the full quarter mile. I only had .02 to go and I just couldn’t do it. And the third time, I tried to run full out, I made about .15 of the quarter and felt my legs start to shake. Yeah, I was done. 

I’m not really sure if this was a good workout, but it was a fun workout. Walking feels a lot like cheating. It also reminded me a lot of when I first started to run, which for some reason made me feel good. I am going to keep trying this until I can actually pull off the plan I developed. And then see what happens next. I don’t know if it will help, but I think next time I do it, I will try to avoid the heat. 

In addition to beating up my legs with running, I had the opportunity to meet some serious hills yesterday. At least I think they were serious. And I am sorry, Orelanders, but they did indeed put our hills to shame. Hell, they made Manayunk hills blush. I was in Chalfont biking some of the roads around Peace Valley Park. My husband’s cousin is an experienced cyclist and he offered to help me become better. Besides learning that I am not the Girl when it comes to climbing hills, I learned more about cadence and using the left side of my bike gears. Previously, the highest hill elevation I had climbed was around 302 feet. In Oreland the highest elevation I bike is about 277 feet. Yesterday the elevations were around 470. Additionally, the climb was about forty more feet then I customarily do in Oreland. That might not seem like a lot to read, but for me on a bike it was. I think I did three hills total, not including what now seem like very little hills at Peace Valley including the one 8% incline. Did I have fun? Yes. Did I learn a lot? Yes, 

The question that boiled up yesterday is: Why am I doing this? I know I want to get stronger and be healthier, but I can do that with a whole lot less intensity three to four days a week. So why push so hard? Why do speed runs, work on hills? (Last night I began plotting out bike rides around places I knew had some serious hills.) And really the only answer I have is because I enjoy it. I want to see if I can run a little further, a little faster. I want to see if I can bike over that hill, or bike to the shore. And inside there there is a little voice that says if I miss a day, if I start to slack off in any way, it will all come unraveled. And it will just be something I was into once. 


Recently I wrote about how hard it is for me, and most women I know, to get past the numbers that surround them. I have really tried hard to not worry about what the scale says, (although I still ask), not think about the tape measure or the clothing size. This has been a continuous battle. I still haven’t given up on calorie counting or tracking how much my daily runs or bikes burn. I say it is to remain healthy and work towards my goal of becoming stronger, and in some ways it is. But I could track that differently, I suppose. 

To add to this number obsession, I have become obsessed with how far I can go and how fast I can get there. In the last several weeks I have become anchored to the numbers on my RunKeeper. The pacing, the splits (which I still don’t understand entirely) the milage and the amount of time I am running or biking. Earlier this week I was ridiculously happy that I did six miles in under an hour. Today, I was equally disappointed that I stopped at fifty five minutes and only made five and a half miles. There are times when I am running I wish I never ran six miles, since now I feel compelled to try to do that all the time. Not just to try to do six miles, but do it faster – go past that. My legs ache, my left hip feels like it wants to crack in two and still I do this. I use to run with my phone silent in the mornings, unless I needed my playlist to keep me going. Now I listen constantly for the next update. How fast am I going? Should I slow down? Wait, I only went how far? And I am always wrong. When I feel as though I am running slow as molasses, I find that I’m not. When I feel like I am really moving, I look to see an eleven minute mile. I have absolutely no feel for this. 

What the hell are splits? Averages?

What the hell are splits? Averages?

Cycling is easier. I refuse to let any numbers take over the joy. I don’t care if half of the milage is down hill. I had to pump up hill to get there and the pure joy of speeding down a hill is something I won’t trade for any numbers. I love pumping as hard and fast as I can go. Trying to get in sixteen miles in under an hour is fun for me. Failure, just sets up another challenge. I don’t know why I can’t find this in running. Maybe because I can’t speed down the hill and feel the wind rush up at me. I feel giddy when I come off the bike. I am just so damn happy. When I finish a run, I feel accomplished. I feel proud and a little more confident in everything I take on. Sometimes, when I have an amazing run, the kind where I feel as though I can run forever, I get super happy. Just so damn pleased with myself. 

Many days, however, are like today. A tired run, where I spend much of the run wondering what I am doing wrong. In my quest to maintain six miles, I sort of let go of the warm up. I only have a little more than an hour normally to run in the morning, so if I am going to make it something has to give. This also means less cool down time. I know this is wrong. I read Runner’s World online religiously. But the numbers just sort of take hold and I become hell bent on making them. Today I walked for about six or seven minutes before my run and about five minutes after. I don’t know if it helps. But I know I could have pushed myself to run six miles. I just ran out of time. And that makes me crazy. Because right now, six is apparently the most important number. 

Respect the Run!

I know better! I know better! I know better! The quickest way to be defeated in any activity for me is to go in hungry. So, yesterday, when I decided to just up and run in the middle of the day, I should have taken stock. I should have remembered that since I had not run or biked that morning, I was eating lighter. I should have remembered that there are no easy runs. There are runs that are fun, that make you feel like a superstar, hot runs, shitty runs, runs where you feel like you are going to die, fast runs, slow runs, sweaty runs for sure, but no easy runs. At least not for me.  

But, in my defense, I didn’t even realize that I was hungry until I pulled into the parking lot. Besides, I was only going to do a short three mile run. Arrogance!!!! Mistake number two: doing six miles the day before does not guarantee that I will be able to do half a mile the next day. This is my mantra: never assume, never take it for granted. Don’t get cocky. I got cocky. Three miles: pfft! More like, fizzle. So why didn’t I just turn around when I got to the track? Go home, grab a bar and then go back? Mostly because my local track was occupied with fall sports already, so I had driven an extra ten or fifteen minutes to get to my old neighborhood track. 

Mistake number three, don’t run when you really have to pee. Especially if you are forty seven years old and popped out some big babies. No, I did not wet myself, but there is little more distracting then thinking, Lord I could really use a bathroom! You start to wonder if it can sweat out through your bladder. The good news is, hunger will distract you from your bladder, at least mine does. By the end of the first mile I was just too depleted to remember I even had a bladder. 

Then, of course, it might be a good idea to know the purpose of the run. I know, for me that sounds crazy, but I have been doing all this reading about recovery runs and drills to increase speed, so they were rolling around in my brain as I drove to the track. I knew going that I was only planning on three miles. I had both of my children with me, I was on a clock for sure.  In the two previous days I had cycled or run for a combined total of twenty five and a half miles. For me, this is a good distance. So, the whole reason I hadn’t run earlier in the day was simple tiredness. I woke and just felt as though, today, I needed some sleep. It was an unplanned day off, something I fight all the time. I do try to listen to my body, but I have to be careful my lazy ass isn’t taking over the conversation. It is hard to listen to your body sometimes when you feel you need to be on alert for this. Anyway, I was thinking that I would do a recovery run. Buuut, I had also been emailing  back and forth with my nephew about signing up for another race, a duathlon. So, I was also thinking about speed drills. Something I am having trouble wrapping my mind around, really. Both of these were competing in my head.

Man was my stomach talking when I got to the track. I was suddenly starving, not just mildly hungry but famished!!!! Okay, recovery run it is. Once around the track and I start running. I have been working on getting below a 10:18 mile, so I guess that meant I should be doing around an 11 minute mile. I’m not exactly sure how these recovery runs are supposed to work, but that seemed right. Except when I looked at my phone, I was doing about a 9 minute mile. Okay, well then maybe this will be speed work. After all, it was a flat run, so it might be a good idea and it seemed like what my legs wanted to do. And then I looked again, a 12 minute mile, back to recovery run. Watching my fourteen year old son, who hadn’t run in at least three months circle the track effortlessly helped to keep me going. Shit, my legs were tired. And then just like that, I was done. I forced myself to do the extra two tenths to make it to the two and a half mile mark and stopped. It was only two more times around the track to make the goal of three miles. But no amount of mind games was going to get me there. I was done. I was even okay with it. Crazy right? 

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Every run is an adventure in self discovery. Every day is different. Can I do this again? Can I do it faster? Can I run longer? And, on some days, the answer is going to be no. And I just have to respect that and use it as motivation to get back out there and change the no to a yes. I have to respect the run. 


Bike, Run, Swim?

This has been a crazy week of buying new running shoes -Yah!!!! An experience in itself, epic bike rides and finding out I’m not invincible. Not necessarily in that order.

So the race was cancelled and now the “training” has morphed back into “working out” I know, a real come down right? Well, we just can’t have this, so of course the quest for a new race is on. The problem is, I was training for this one, and I am not flexible. I wanted to bike, kayak and then run. I was pretty certain I could do it, but not one hundred percent. The other races I have seen feel either a little too much of a sure thing, or too much of a yeah not happening. For instance, swimming five hundred meters in open water. Hmmm, the length of the pool is twenty five meters and I struggle to make that. Although I was on swim team as a child, I was never a strong swimmer. Everyone was allowed to swim. And as my sisters and my brother were racking up medals, I was racking up DQ’s. I would always touch down before the wall. I don’t even know why, I just stood up to see where I was. By the time I was twelve I quit. Proof that athletics is not always genetic, because while I was touching down, my sister was taking the public league state championship, setting a record for her age group that held for almost twenty years.

So when I got into the pool and tried to actually swim with breathing and everything, it all came back, including the desire to touch down before I reached the wall. I don’t know why. I think it’s panic. I don’t think I can fix this in six weeks. Therefore, that race is out. For now. I am thinking about practicing over the year with some help, and trying to prepare for a real triathlon in the spring. But that is pretty far away. Oddly enough, what holds real interest for me in the immediate future are 5K’s and 10K’s. I know these are not “endurance” events,  six miles is pushing my endurance. I just want to try something a little more entry level, less splash and more geared towards my experience level. It all seems so oddly rational, I have to question my own motives.

I also want to work towards The Broad Street Run, so I am working on building up to ten miles. This isn’t until the spring, so I have some time. And I found another Century Bike Ride in the spring, about a month after the Broad Street, and I am excited to train for that.

One hundred miles on the bike, just seems like pure joy to me. Yesterday, I thought I would burst with happiness as I flew down Barron Hill Road. Not only did I bike up the hill that had previously defeated me, after a sharp right, there was another immediate hill that was even steeper. We wound our way from Wissahickon, through Andorra, over to Conshohocken and then turned to go back to Manayunk. Up from Manayunk back into Wissahickon. With a few stops for water, we made the ride in just under two hours. And we were not motoring. I can’t wait to do it again. I am already planning variations. I also need to share with great awe and respect that my mom’s friend, who has almost thirty years on me, was the guide on this ride. He does this same loop or a variation of it three times a week.  That’s seventy some years old. Proof that you don’t have to slow down.

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The running, well to be honest, ten miles does not seem like pure joy. But it is a huge accomplishment in my book. Not a marathon, but still a lot of miles. And now that I have my fancy new running shoes, I feel even more motivated – $120 more motivated to be exact – to take on this challenge. Christened those puppies today with six miles and they did feel great!!! Seriously enjoyed the whole experience of buying them, even though I found out I have transformed into big foot. My one foot is a whole size bigger than the other. So it really is big foot and not big feet. The young man that helped me at Jenkintown Running Company, said that people should have their feet checked every couple of years, because they change so much. He also said that runners should buy their shoes a half to a whole size larger so their feet have room to swell as they run. I have to admit the whole shoe shopping experience puffed out my ego. Talking about foot strike, walking around the store in seven different pairs of shoes, discussing arch size, distance and terrain. I felt – for a few minutes – like a serious athlete. It was so much fun. So, although they look like clodhoppers, they really feel amazing. And I had to pop for the socks -$11 a pair – because they also felt amazing. Just one pair, but they just felt so good. After wearing my old Filas for the past couple of months running, Brooks Ghost 7’s and the Feetures socks were just like happy, happy, joy, joy.

Soooooooo, who wants to form a team and ride one hundred miles on June 6?

Challenge Cancelled

I couldn’t believe it when I first read the email. I thought for sure it was a joke or a mistake. Then I found the website was down, others were getting the same email. No Pocono Endurance Challenge. So what?

This little endeavor all started Memorial Day Weekend, but even before that I had begun the process of pulling myself from slothdom. I had already started to run – or at least trying to. But I never would have pushed myself this hard, at least I don’t think I would have. There wouldn’t have been the urgency. And I knew that I would need to have additional goals once the Challenge was complete in order to maintain this level of intensity. But that was a future worry, and I was already targeting events for next year based on benchmarks I wanted to obtain. So these are still there. And I knew a couple of weeks ago, it had stopped being about the Challenge. I was pushing myself against my own limits, constantly trying to beat personal bests. Go further, go faster, go harder. Steeper hills, longer inclines, longer workouts.

But when I got the email, I felt as though someone had kicked me in the gut. For a few minutes, the whole purpose of the last couple of months evaporated. There would be no proving ground. I was stunned. In a blink, my weekend plans changed – no point in renting a kayak now. My immediate plans changed – didn’t need to buy extra stuff for the bike like a handlebar bag, bike gloves and some kind of flat fixer in a can. I was floundering. Now what? The first instinct was to find another event to immediately fill the void. Another challenge, something comparable.

I thought about this a lot when I was running this morning. This morning I had one of those runs that make you go out and run again. It was hard enough to feel as though I accomplished something, but not an agony. It was… very enjoyable. And this hasn’t been about the Challenge for a long time now. And it has been all about it. The point of the Challenge was to prove to myself that I could go twenty seven and a half miles. That I could do that and not die. So that remains in the air, waiting to be proven. But I don’t know that I need to prove it right away. The challenges that I’m most attracted to include open water swimming. I am not an accomplished swimmer. And I am afraid of swimming long distances in open water. So that is reason enough, in my mind, to take it on. I’m just scared. Scared of floundering and making an ass out of myself in the water. Scared that I will do so abysmally, I’ll be humiliated. Scared that I won’t even finish. Scared. I thought about all of this while I was running, and as I was closing in on six miles for the first time, I realized that I don’t want to drop myself into something that I can’t adequately prepare. There are open water triathlons in my future, but they may not be this fall. And I don’t have to immediately fill the void. Since this is a lifetime journey, I – hopefully – have some time. For today, I am going to drop myself into the pool and see how far I can swim.

I was going to do a check in once the Challenge was finished – and I guess for all intents and purposes it is finished- this is where I am now:

To date I have lost ten pounds and two inches around my middle. My personal running best is six miles, just accomplished this morning. My longest bike ride remains seventeen miles, but I am hoping to go past that this weekend. In the past ten weeks I have definitely gotten a lot stronger, and faster. And HOLY SHIT I ran six miles this morning!!!!! And I have no intention of quitting. Sing it Tom!

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Running Hard

I had been looking forward to this morning’s run. It was going to be my vindication for having such a hard run on Monday. And although it wasn’t as hard as Monday’s run, it was not the joyful experience for which I had prepared. I tossed and turned a lot last night, and woke up hungry. I stayed in bed later than I wanted, not sleeping, just clinging to my pillow and wishing for hours more sleep while at the same time holding it at bay so I didn’t oversleep. After a tense ten minutes or so I dragged myself away and stumbled into the bathroom. As I was driving to the gym around five thirty, I noticed a woman just starting her own run. I was instantly jealous and felt let down by myself. Even though I have been trying to add in a full body workout two to three times a week, I miss the days of just running and biking with some planking or even the seven minute work out thrown in from time to time. Lately, it all seems a bit more rigid and time consuming.  By the time I came home from the gym, I was starving. And, oddly enough, I was still yawning. I took half an energy bar and set off.

Hunger and fatigue create an inauspicious start to any work out, let alone running. I think running is the hardest of all physical pursuits, which also makes it, to me, the most rewarding. It is not always the joyful experience that biking is, but there is a huge sense of accomplishment when I finish.  Also, I have noticed that when I run around the time of month my body is celebrating being female, it is much harder. My legs feel achy and week, and everything just seems… harder. And yeah, my body is getting ready for the festivities, which added to my lack of endurance.

What I thought about as I was running, when I wasn’t tracking how long the blocks in Oreland are, or how wide the streets (.06 mile for blocks and .01 mile for streets), is that for most adults there will be plenty of days that are not optimal. There will always be stressors in time, work, family, friends, unexpected events – both good and bad. The normal ebb and flow of life constantly test the commitment to push physical boundaries. I try to use this to my advantage, telling myself that the odds I will wake up after a wonderful night’s sleep rested and ready to take on the world or at least the Poconos are slim to none. Chances are I will toss and turn the night before, and the calendar is already not shaping up for optimal female health. Therefore, I need to practice running and biking in these circumstances. Because I’m not a professional athlete and I have to live in the real world.

Still, when I am well rested, not hungry and feeling at the top of my game, running makes me feel like a superhero. There are days I feel as though I could run forever. And that’s why I continue to run. Plus, seven miles is just around the corner…

Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?

I have become accustomed to the positive feedback and support that I have been receiving from family and friends. I can say, with no exceptions, that everyone has been positive and encouraging. Until Saturday. It was bound to happen. We had people over celebrating my son’s birthday. I was feeling pretty good. Too good, maybe. That morning I was at the gym early kicking my butt on the bike and the treadmill. And then of course there was the wine. Lots and lots of wine. Since I have been keeping the drinking to a minimum, the wine went quickly to my head. I guess I was so use to people telling me I could do it, that when someone actually seemed to think I couldn’t, it was stunning.

“You don’t really think you can do this do you? Do you know how hard it is to kayak? Have you ever even been kayaking?” Which is my biggest fear in this whole adventure. And then, “You don’t expect to win do you?” Since I haven’t thought of this in terms of winning or losing, but just finishing – hopefully with some time left over to watch the Eagles Game, I could honestly answer that question, no. I was so surprised, I found myself agreeing and downplaying my accomplishments. And it was easy, because it felt as though I really had accomplished nothing. I have only been kayaking once, and I’m not confident about my ability. I have no idea what the bike trail looks like, except that it has several switchbacks.  I’m not sure I can do the trail without getting off my bike. And the run is something I have kept out of my thoughts as much as possible. As though running five miles in the morning is equal to running three after several hours of physical activity.

Regardless of what she said, what I heard was, “Who the hell do you think you are? You can’t do this. You are fooling yourself into believing you are something you aren’t. This is not for you.” And so why do I care? Why, when almost everyone else is being so supportive, does the one voice hold so much weight? Why? Because it echoes my own thoughts. There is a large fundamental piece of who I am that sees me as trying to be something I’m not. Someone I’m not. I am the funny woman, who drinks too much, curses too freely and watches football. To do this, and do it well, I need to change a lot. And as if to confirm my own expectations, I drank a lot of wine. A lot of wine. Somehow, feeling that it would make everyone more comfortable if I just stay in my role. I was rewarded with a killer headache yesterday, a binge fest on crappy food and a horrible run this morning.

This morning between miles one and two I was tired and my hips hurt. Between miles two and three I thought my legs might fall off, by mile four I was literally on the verge of tears. By mile four and half I was getting through on sheer will. By mile five, I was of course fine, and pushed myself to do another quarter mile. And I was berating myself for having eaten such horrible food and so much wine. What was I thinking?

I have often thought of the balance piece of this, managing who I am with who I want to be. But do I have to define myself in those terms? There are parts of my life I truly enjoy. Do they need wine or beer to enhance them? And if my habits shift so dramatically what does that mean for the other people in my life? How will this impact my friendships? My marriage? And does anyone have the right to set limitations on what I can and cannot do? Who gets to decide this if not me? Aren’t I the one who gets to decide, to answer the question?

So, just who the hell do I think I am?